Luck, Skill and Startup Success

I don’t think most people on Wall Street are particularly moved by the protests of the #occupywallstreet movement. I think they feel that they have earned their wealth through hard work and intellectual horsepower. In general, high achieving people want to attribute their success to their skill, expertise and effort.

Daniel Kahnman reports in the New York Times about how again and again he’s seen people deny the implications of data against their intuition:

The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration; it is deeply ingrained in the culture of the industry. Facts that challenge such basic assumptions — and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem — are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them. This is particularly true of statistical studies of performance, which provide general facts that people will ignore if they conflict with their personal experience.

Bringing the discussion closer to home, there are many who compare doing a startup to playing poker. I’m not a big player myself but it appears true on a surface level: both involve many losers and a few big winners,  taking calculated risks, and strong elements of both luck and skill [1].

This is a long-winded way for me to follow up on my announcement of Ridejoy say that I feel incredibly lucky to be here. My startup Ridejoy just launched on Techcrunch, we graduated from the prestigious Y Combinator program and we’re now in a position to hire some great talent. It’s surreal.

I know my team and I have an enormous opportunity to make a dent in the universe [2] and I approach it with unbridled enthusiasm — tempered by the recognition that making good moves and busting your ass neither guarantees nor earns you a huge startup success.

I’ve put a lot into Ridejoy and I’m going to do everything I can to make it a success – and hope to share more of our story as it unfolds.

Ultimately we all have to recognize that we do not live in a just world. Luck has already played and will continue to play a huge role in the success of Ridejoy, and of any venture.

So those who have been given great opportunity have the responsibility to tackle it and work it to the maximum – and then use it to bring more opportunity to others.

Thanks for reading and for all your support.


FOOTNOTES

[Photo Credit] Adriano Agulló [1] Steven Levitt of Freakonomics Fame has published a working paper that suggests there is “strong evidence in support of the idea that poker is a game of skill.” [2] Thanks Steve


 

 

 

Introducing Ridejoy

I know it’s been over 4 months since I first posted about starting something new without really much word. I’ve gotten a fair number of inquires about it lately and I apologize for holding out on you for so long! [1] There were important reasons why I couldn’t blog more about it.

But the cat comes out the bag today.

I’m thrilled to introduce Ridejoy – a place to find new friends to share rides with. We’re a social transportation startup and we’re going to transform the way Americans get around. A more personal piece comes tomorrow, but let’s start with the TechCrunch story:

YC-Funded Ridejoy: Make Some Dough On Your Next Roadtrip (And Maybe Some New Friends)

 


FOOTNOTES

[1] I recently got an email from a concerned reader asking about the status of my startup. He noticed that I hadn’t been posting much and was worried that maybe things were tanking and I had no one to turn to!

Fortunately that isn’t the case but I truly appreciated the note – it’s great to have thoughtful readers!

Everything I’ve Learned About Sales, Marketing and Persuasion

This is a multi-part series on Sales, Marketing and Persuasion. To see the blog post that inspired this series, click here. To see a list of all the blog posts on this topic: How to Sell Market and Self Promote.

I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts about sales — well really sales, marketing, persuasion, self-promotion, etc. Basically how to instill the desire in people to take the actions you want them to take — and make sure they follow through with it, while treating them with respect (ie not being a douchebag). So while I might use terms like “sell”, “buy”, “customer”, these are just placeholder

There’s a lot to cover so this will take a while. I’m going to pour everything I know into these posts – backed with examples, phrases to use, research and more. I hope it turns out to be really useful for readers. Here’s a list of the chapters I have in mind so far, with a brief description of what I aim to discuss.

  • Life is sales – Achieving almost any goal in life involves getting other people to do things (for you, with you, etc). You’ve had to sell people on things your entire life – it’s time to get serious about it.
  • Why smart people suck at selling – Smart people focus too much on facts and on being right. They think the force of their arguments is what will win people to their side, when that’s usually only a minor element of the process.
  • People buy feelings – Human beings do things because they think it will make them feel a certain way.  Figure out what that person wants to feel and show them how you can help them get it.
  • Sales is a relationship – No matter what you are selling – a widget, a web app, a political candidate or worthy cause – the key factor in the sale is the relationship.
  • Get inside their heads (and hearts) – A successful sale starts with questions – lots of them. You have to really understand where the other person is coming from. Never start with you.
  • It’s all about how you tell the story – We are a story-driven species. The stories are the ideal vehicle for conveying information and stimulating emotion.
  • Help them kick ass – The focus is not on why your thing is awesome. The focus is on how your thing can help THEM be awesome.
  • The proof is social – Like throwing a party, selling becomes a lot easier when you already have some people. Sometimes it’s better to let others do the persuasion for you.
  • Take away the fear of buying – People are more scared of the downside than they are enticed by upside. Allay their fears and win the sale.
  • Fit the ask to the task – Make it easy to say yes and hard to say no. What you ask for and how you ask for it matters – and it varies depending on the situation.
  • Followup, followup, followup – It’s never over. Remember: it’s a relationship. Stay in touch with people even after they refuse. Keep building that connection and providing value. Positive persistence = winning.
  • Special Report: Self Promotion / Personal Branding – Self promotion is a special kind of sales. Here’s how to sell yourself, without looking like a douche.

What do you guys think? Is there something you want covered that I’m missing? How can I do this in a way that best serves you? Let me know in the comments.

Dealing with Blisters, Avoiding Ankle Pain and Other Lessons From My Second 5k Race

I finished my second 5k race a few weeks ago at Steven’s Creek Trail. I ran with my roommate Michael (who’s doing his own startup OYO Glasses) and completed it in 25:58, finishing 72nd out of 232 people (7th out of the 16 guys in my age group). It was slower than my first 5k by about 90 seconds which is kind of a bummer, but my training was also a bit off (you’ll see why in a minute). Also, this time I had shorts on. =)

I don’t want to turn this blog into a training / race log so I’ll focus on some useful things I’ve learned before and after the race.

Avoiding Feet / Ankle Pain

 

I'm screaming not from ankle pain here but just from general exhaustion in my all-out sprint to the finish.

I ran my first 5k in Vibrams and it was great. But after running in Vibrams all the time on pavement, I found my feet and ankles really starting to bother me. I took some time off to see if I just needed some rest but even after not running for most of August, it still hurt when I started running. I knew I wasn’t running hard to enough to have that serious of an injury, so I needed to try new tactics: Continue reading…

The Harder I Push, the More I Find Within Myself [quote]

The harder I push, the more I find within myself. I am always looking for the next step, a different world to go into, areas where I have not been before. It’s lonely driving a Grand Prix car, but very absorbing. I have experienced new sensations and I want more. That is my excitement, my motivation.

I had the opportunity to watch a great documentary about Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest Formula One drivers to walk the planet – have to thank my buddy Al Abut for bringing me out to that one. Really love this quote about a man living out on the edge. To become the greatest in the world at something, you really have to be possessed. You really have to be nuts. Because winning isn’t normal, especially winning over a long career.

Learn more about Ayrton Senna on Wikipedia.